Review: “Openly Straight” (Openly Straight #1) by Bill Konigsberg

For my first post of LGBT Pride Month, I’m reading a gay romance novel that caught my eye while looking in a bookstore. The cover seemed nice, but the idea behind the book and the possibilities of it really caught my attention. I’ve heard of a few people say that they do not enjoy gay literature because according to them it’s the same old awkward romance you see in regular love stories. While it can be true in some cases, I have to disagree. Typically a gay romance doesn’t always have to have the romance as its focus, such as “Willful Machines” (which I reviewed a while ago). Much like zombie stories or horror films, a gay romance can be good with different variety and good characters, as well as an interesting story. And “Openly Straight” by Bill Konigsberg is one of these stories.

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Happy LGBT Pride Month

In honor of it being LGBT Pride Month this June of 2016, the same month where the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized gay marriage all across America, I’d like to dedicate these next thirty days by reviewing and analyzing various LGBTQA+ literature.

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Review: “Breaking Sky” by Cori McCarthy

If you ever grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s like I have, you might also look at fighter-jet/plane action movies like “Top Gun”, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” or even a bad Michael Bay film like “Pearl Harbor” the same way I do. They are fun and seem like okay films, but there comes certain times where you want to see yourself in a jet or fighter plane like an action hero. With “Top Gun” I remember the video game more than the movie, since it focused more on interactions with characters rather than dogfights.

In Cori McCarthy’s “Breaking Sky”, it feels more like a futuristic “Top Gun” if the setting and characters were more interesting. Is it a good young adult book though, as well as a good thrill for literary thrill-seekers?

In the far future, it is the Second Cold War (technically aren’t we in one right now?) and  Continue reading

Review: ‘Tri-Angles series: Land Sharks’ by Katharine M. Nohr

So I was asked by a good editor friend of mine if I could review a novel she’s having published next month, and I decided to review this. If you have the time after reviewing this, please be sure to order it via the link below 🙂 Thanks!

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Legal dramas, whether they be on TV, film, animation or literature are practically a dime a dozen in this day and age. And who can blame us? Many people love popular media that takes place in the court room, from old movies such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to modern ones such as ‘Law and Order’. It has become a staple of popular television and literature everywhere. However, if you are going to make your legal drama stand out, it is considered wise to make it creative and new.

Katharine Nohr’s ‘Land Shark’ is in many respects that kind of legal drama.

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Review: ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ by Ruth Ware

Whenever I read books about a group of strangers meeting in an isolated place and being thrust into a horror story, I often can’t help but roll my eyes. If you remember my review of ‘The Rules’ in October, you may recall it kind of left a foul taste in my mouth. It was by no means terrible, but it left me wanting more variety and depth. I wanted an original story with new characters, a sense of chilling atmosphere, and be genuinely scared and care for the characters.

Well…Ruth Ware’s chilling novel ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ is that book. Continue reading

Review: ‘Willful Machines’ by Tim Floreen

Science fiction novels involving machines gone astray is practically a dime a dozen, from Isaac Asimov’s classic short stories to works such as ‘The Matrix’ franchise turning AI entertainment into a clichéd genre. In almost every fictional work, there’s always an innocent AI, a prejudiced character that sees the AI as an abomination, and a heroic bystander who will end up choosing between humanity or the AI (or heck, even destroying the AI to save the world). There’s more variety to other works, but to me that’s the basic gist of AI in science fiction.

So how does new-coming author Tim Floreen make his latest book ‘Willful Machines’ more of a diverse addition to the genre? Making the main character gay of course.

Interesting choice.

It is the (obviously not very) near future, where the world is becoming more obsessed with technology. After a newly created AI name Charlotte escapes destruction via downloading onto the internet, she begins a campaign of cyberterrorism on America. Her demands? Release her other robotic counterparts and let them live equal to humans.

Years later, a new American president has been elected under a new political party that is against AI and values traditional values. Things get complicated though when it is believed that the president’s son, a closeted (and once suicidal) robotics student named Lee Fischer, may be Charlotte’s next target. With only his gruff bodyguard and his best friend at school, Lee doesn’t know who to trust with his life (and secret), probably not even Nico Medina, the new boy in school he has a crush on.

Obviously this is a weird setup for a story the more you think about it, hell Kirkus Reviews called it a mixture of ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’, which I can honestly say best matches the description of the book. It is a weird mixture, but the author of this clearly knows it and embraces the strangeness and the commentary to get out of this type of story.

Going in, the main character Lee reminded me of Caleb from the film ‘Ex Machina’, who’s a quietly meek but intelligent and well-spoken young man. He’s a loner, but not to the point of disliking human interaction. And although he still carries suicidal thoughts due to his insecure sexuality, you feel the pain and anguishing struggle.

Nico is also a very likeable character, being a good contrast to the robotic-loving Lee. He’s devilishly handsome but also so eccentric. He’s happily jubilant to breathe life, loves reading Shakespeare, and adores eating the terrible food at Lee’s school. Nico is less of a fictional character and more like the eccentric but good-looking Chilean exchange student you meet in college or a frat house. And when you put him and our main character together, their chemistry is beautiful, especially after a grave secret of Nico’s is revealed (which I won’t dare give away).

The rest of the side characters are good, especially Lee’s best friend named Bex (who reminds me of every liberal feminist you ever see at high school) and his bodyguard named Trumbull, but it is also a problem. Throughout the novel, it feels like the story wants to focus more on Nico and Lee’s relationship, and that’s fine. However, when you have a novel like this where the main character is questioning his sexuality and is genuinely afraid of what his friends and the world will think, it is necessary for us to know about the relationships between themselves and Lee. Don’t get me wrong: they do that, but not as much as I would’ve liked.

For example, there’s a scene in the beginning of ‘Willful Machines’ where Lee and his father, the anti-robotics POTUS, are meeting in his dorm room and questioning why Lee is into robotics. It is a good scene and plays out very well when he meets and approves of Nico as a new friend, but I wanted some more of Lee’s father. Despite his views and policies on family values, the President seems like a father who genuinely loves his son, and only wants what he believes is best for him. He’s kind of (more like is) the football coaching father who has a nerdy son who wants to enroll in Caltech.
Aside from, that I do love the other interactions of Lee and Nico with the other characters, even if I could’ve used a bit more.

Outside of that, ‘Willful Machines’ provides extraordinary commentary on freewill and the idea of whether or not we make choices or our choices make us. One of Lee’s teachers says this one intriguing quote about how humans are no different from machines because the choices we make are based on genetics and in our DNA. That’s a fairly good point, considering how some people believe they choose to be smart when in fact it can be due to good genes (i.e. good programming). She even goes on to say if God exists, humans may be no different from machines, and it is beautifully simple enough to understand for younger readers.

And not only is the ending of this tragic like ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but the ending leaves itself up for a good sequel I hope to read soon. I grew to adore the main couple and want to know what’ll happen.

Drenched in modern gothic storytelling and thrilling commentary on AI, Tim Floreen’s ‘Willful Machines’ is a great science fiction novel for both the straight reader and the questioning one.

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Review: ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I’d review a random romance novel that caught my eye. Looking at the cover, ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon seems like an average book in the YA romance section. However, knowing what it’s actually about and reading it from cover to cover, I couldn’t stop reading it even on school nights. It has a good personality, engrossing leads, and a touching but cynical atmosphere that’d make ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ blush. It did keep me interested, but maybe I was expecting a little more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Madeline Whittier is a young teenage girl who has an extremely rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which makes her literally allergic to the outside world (yeah, remember the movie called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’? That’s this in a YA romance). Besides taking online classes and spending her days in a white house built with an airlock, Madeline is catered by her overprotective mother and a loving nurse. She never changes routine, and always wonders about the world outside.

But one day, a new family moves next door to Madeline, and the oldest boy is a teenager her age named Olly. Unlike her, he embraces the outside and spends his days either doing parkour on the roof or dressing like a Goth off the set of ‘American Horror Story’. As predicted, Madeline falls head over heels for him, and he begins to see the tragedy of her lifelong predicament. However, will Madeline risk her life for a chance of real happiness?

This is a book that cynics like myself may hate because of the choices and life-threatening decisions Madeline makes to see her love interest. On the one hand, you understand how this is the first time she’s probably been in love, but you do have to side with the mother when it’s life-threatening.

However, going into the first two-thirds of the story, this kind of reminded me of the popularly criticized book ‘Into the Wild’, with the main character being cooped up in one place for a long time and making piss-poor decisions of living one day to live life like it was meant to be lived. Sure his decisions are stupid and the risks he takes are beyond insane, but at the same time you have to admire the passion he holds into following his dreams and how naïve but gently determined he is.

Madeline is the same way. She’s a person who’s never been sick like a regular person, never smelled fresh air, and knows not much about the outside world than what she’s seen on a laptop or in books. Even knowing the risks she’ll take to just see Olly across a living room, you have to admire the naïve passion she owns, the intellectual optimism, and the cynical pessimism she has for the future. It is almost like seeing an animal in a cage, but with a human being.

Then we have Olly, who at first is at first nothing but eye candy in the first third of ‘Everything, Everything’, until you start to learn more about him next to Madeline. He may dress like a Goth, but he’s surprisingly intellectual when it comes to mathematics and astronomy. Olly knows the risks of seeing Madeline much like she does, but is also passionate to know the girl more. Much like the book, his personality shines as the story progresses.

In fact, I love how the novel tell you about the character in a simple way to know their struggles and understand what’s going on. For example, there are chapters where Madeline and Olly are sending texts and IMs to each other over the course of several weeks and that’s it. Over their conversations, they hint at what we miss in-between chapters, and give vague enough answers for us to know how protective Madeline’s mother is, and how violent Olly’s father is. It is the right balance of giving details without giving answers.

Aside from the decisions Madeline makes in the first two-thirds, my only main problem is surprisingly the ending. I won’t try to spoil anything here, but the climax of the film feels out-of-synch with the rest of the book. For a majority of the novel, we believe Nicola Yoon is giving us a quirky but dramatic tragedy, but suddenly gives us a sudden twist that was never built on. Granted, the ending chapter is bittersweet yet heart-warming, but I never felt that the ending of ‘Everything, Everything’ lived up to its full potential.

Overall, ‘Everything, Everything’ has all the greater elements that should be in a good YA romance novel. It isn’t great, but it is dramatically entertaining with a sweet couple and an enriching personality. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend it for anyone in the spirit of Valentine’s Day!

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